Alexithymia from the Ancient Greek words λέξις (lexis, "diction", "word") and θυμός (thumos, "soul, as the seat of emotion, feeling, and thought") modified by an alpha-privative—literally "without words for emotions"—is a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.
Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding.
Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.
Alexithymia is considered to be a personality trait that places individuals at risk for other medical and psychiatric disorders while reducing the likelihood that these individuals will respond to conventional treatments for the other conditions. Alexithymia is not classified as a mental disorder.
It is a dimensional personality trait that varies in severity from person to person. A person's alexithymia score can be measured with questionnaires such as the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ), the Online Alexithymia Questionnaire (OAQ-G2) or the Observer Alexithymia Scale (OAS).
Alexithymia is defined by:
1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.
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